A friend of mine is a diehard fan of full-bodied Californian red wines to the point that he disdains to drink wines from any other region. As a strong supporter of Buy Local, Drink Local, I'd like to broaden his horizon with some Ontario wines. Any suggestions?
That's a tough one. Ontario produces many great wines, but to compare them with those of California would be like comparing a canoe with a surf board.
California's wine-growing districts generally are blissfully sunny and dry in summer. That weather yields superripe, intensely sweet grapes, which translates into concentrated, high-alcohol wines. Ontario stands at the other extreme, wine-wise. It's a cool climate with lots more cloud cover. This can have the advantage of breeding character into grapes that might otherwise get lazy and fat, but I'm afraid your friend may find most Ontario reds lacking in the opulence department. It's like asking a woman who has an obsession with beefy body-builders to go on a date with Woody Allen.
I'd suggest starting with the top cabernets or merlots or so-called meritages (usually blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc) from the best producers. And look for wines from Ontario's 2010 vintage, which was warm and sunny and produced relatively rich fruit. Two excellent examples off the top of my head: Tawse Meritage (the 2010 was superb) and Hidden Bench La Brunante. They're not cheap, at $59.95 and $75, respectively. But, hey, your friend is probably paying double that for some of his California trophies.